Bryn Mawr’s first date-worthy restaurant

Restaurateur Jonathan Hunt moved into quaint Bryn Mawr and lit a fire under its residents with his latest venture, Sparks. Now neighbors are leaving their cloistered home kitchens and gathering at the hearth of the wood-burning oven that Hunt installed with Amor Hantous, his business partner at Rinata in Uptown. (Hunt also owns al Vento in the Nokomis neighborhood).

The restaurant’s seasonally changing menu spans and blends geographic bounds—Mediterranean spreads, Korean tacos, American biscuits-and-gravy—but stays unified by its fire-based cooking method. The menu could drop a few dishes: the garlic soup has a bitter, metallic tang; the enormous rack of baby-back ribs looks impressive, but the meat clings too tightly to the bones and the sauce lacks bite; and the sake list and sak-tails feel more like a work-around to the restaurant’s ineligibility for a hard-liquor license (it’s too small) than a relevant food-pairing option.

Even without these, Sparks still puts out plenty of delicious offerings. Pita bread can often be uninspiring, stiff, and as flavorless as cardboard. But the fresh-baked stuff at Sparks possesses a puffy tenderness and has the same plump appeal of a soft pretzel. It’s a perfect pocket for spicy lamb, tempered with creamy-cool coleslaw.

The pasta and house-made gelato are similar to those that Hunt mastered at his Italian restaurants, along with crisp, thin-crust pizzas, which offer a more gourmet alternative to those at neighborhood mainstay Fast Freddie’s. Sparks is casual—call-on-the-way waitlist, most items priced $5-$12—but it’s the neighborhood’s first date-worthy destination. And the former Bryn Mawr coffee shop’s now sleek, contemporary digs make for a compelling spot to linger, particularly  on the patio, which feels as secluded as the neighborhood.

230 S. Cedar Lake Rd., Mpls., 612- 259-8943,